Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
The universe – and nonviolence
The last time I was paying tribute to the wonders of the universe, and did link it a bit to nonviolence, but I wanted to go further here. [More mystical musings? – Ed]
There are two ends of the spectrum that we can marvel at in the universe. The scale of an endless universe, or universes beyond our universe, is so beyond our understanding, our reckoning, that we cannot grasp it. But equally beyond our comprehension is the number of micro-organisms that are in a handful of garden soil. Both on the macro and micro levels, the universe if full of vibrancy and life.
And when I say the universe is full of life, I take that as quite obvious. The maths and what we know about the bits of the universe humans have learnt about clearly indicate that there is lots of life out there beyond the shores and relative sureties of Earth. Obviously we don’t know what kind of life, and much of it may be microbial, but the maths would also tend to indicate we are not only not alone but there may be many life forms both less and more advanced than we are.
I don’t want to get into the whole debate about UFOs, and if intelligent beings from outside are monitoring us (what a disappointment for them we must be….) their technology must be such, by reason of the distance they have come, that they can do it without us noticing if they want to. Who knows. But my point is that we are part of a massive web of life, and we are learning to our cost on this earth that we are not above nature. Nonviolence to our planet is not only nonviolence towards the rest of life but the only survival strategy we have.
However nonviolence towards our fellow human beings everywhere is a part of it that many have not grasped as they pursue violent acquisition, repression and private and national greed. We are clearly all linked as human beings. National and ethnic labels may be important in some ways but they are accretions which, on a wider scale, are unimportant. As both the climate crisis and Covid-19 show, humanity sinks or swims together – and in relation to Covid it looks, unfortunately, that in terms of sharing and cooperation we have been rather floundering. The same conclusion applies to refugee issues – and in particular rich world responses.
As I also said last time, it doesn’t matter what your religious or philosophical beliefs are, the wonder of the universe is shared by us all, and open to interpretation by us all. And there is much that we still don’t understand about our own planet. There is much we don’t understand about the human being, how our brains function for example, but what we should be able to do is stand in awe at the marvel of being alive, of being human, and what we humans can do.
Of course there are those with a dark view of human nature, and for all of us considering the nature of human nature I would certainly recommend Rutger Bregman’s ‘Humankind’, reviewed in these pages at https://innatenonviolence.org/readings/2020_07.shtml Armies have to be trained to kill, and even when trained to do so, soldiers would usually prefer not to do so.
There are many things I don’t know and will never know. But I do know that nonviolence and non-killing (to use a term often used by Máiread Maguire) is one of the secrets of the universe. Not doing so is playing at being a god.
…where credit is due. The Catholic bishops often get a bashing today, and in my opinion it is sometimes well deserved (and I wouldn’t exclude Prod bishops from the same), but one thing which I would credit the Northern Catholic bishops with is their opposition to the “11+” system of transfer, or its equivalents, from primary to secondary school.
Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, recently came out against the Northern grammar schools’ proposed single test for transfer. He said https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-58663414 it appeared to be “setting in concrete the fragmentation” of decision-making in Northern Ireland’s education system, questioned whether it should be the grammar schools making the running on this as opposed to politicians, and “He described the transfer test as a “fake exam which claims to measure intelligence but really is only a competition for those who are best prepared”“ It is the latter point I would like to elucidate.
It is quite some years ago now but I had occasion to interview the principal of the Catholic girls’ secondary school in a fair sized town in Norn Iron. She informed me that girls who failed the 11+ exam and came to her school but five years later did well in GCSEs would automatically, no matter what their career choice, decide to go the Catholic girls’ grammar school because until they got the grammar school uniform on at 16 they did not feel they had regained the self image they had lost at 11. For children, and a majority of children at that, at age 11 to be told, in any way, that they have ‘failed’ is simply violent, and I use that term carefully and deliberately.
Of course there are all sorts of issues involved. Transfer to secondary school can be done on a class (i.e. rich/poor, not classroom) basis even without any kind of transfer test, and the involvement of class certainly happens in the Republic too though without the stigma associated with the Northern 11+ or equivalent. In Norn Iron the long term failure to sort the whole matter out has been a reflection of the political system’s failure to take decisions on some essential matters. And the high level of low achievement among Northern Ireland school students (along with, conversely, a relatively high level of high achievers) is a scandal which blights lives and contributes to the malaise in which Northern Ireland exists. The North needs a different system.
So well done to Donal McKeown who is a long term advocate for justice – and, incidentally, formerly an activist with Pax Christi.
Subnormal behaviour on submarines
What in the world (sic) are the USA and UK doing selling nuclear submarines to Australia? China may be flexing its muscles in the South China Sea but it hasn’t been a country busy militarily occupying others apart from its reprehensible ongoing repression and colonialism in the likes of Tibet and Xinjiang. Talk about escalation…..
I can have no sympathy for France in feeling it was done the dirty by Australia reneging on its deal to buy ‘conventional’ subs from them. The arms trade is a dirty and underhand business at the best of times so you can expect the worst.
Selling nuclear submarines to a non-nuclear power may not be nuclear weapons proliferation but it is certainly military escalation. I feel sad that there is another sphere of military escalation in the world.
“So let’s build a really long and hugely expensive tunnel through one of the biggest munition and radioactive dumps that exist – what could go wrong?”
The tunnel between Norn Iron and Scotland which B Johnson proposed is dead in the water (pun intended) in terms of financial cost. Putting any kind of tunnel through the Beaufort Dyke in the middle of the Irish Sea, both due to its depth, unexploded munitions, toxic chemicals and radioactivity, (see e.g. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/beaufort-dyke-reveals-its-deadly-secrets-1.86927 ) would have been an absolute nightmare. Johnson’s kite flying on the issue was, I presume, mainly to demonstrate his commitment to the continuation of a united ‘United Kingdom’ (and a somewhat pathetic and ineffective sop to unionists) though his more practical policies have been effectively ripping that up. While any practical inter-country links should be welcomed this one is not a runner or even a swimmer.
As you presumably already know, Johnson is big on grand theatrical flourishes but very poor on detail (he is not even very good at lying given that successful liars do so in a way that makes detection difficult or at least difficult to expose) and he should have realised from the start that the cost would be astronomical. Though in another way you could say, like D Trump, Johnson is a ‘good’ liar in that truth is not what you expect from him. There has been no full survey of the potential but £20 billion was mentioned whereas in my non-engineered mind I would say you could probably multiply that by a factor of two or three, even if it was optimised as a combination of tunnel and bridge (the latter making weather related closure more likely).
The British-French Channel Tunnel proved difficult to fund and sustain in terms of cost. And yet Britain is an island of nearly 60 million people. Ireland is an island of less than 7 million. While the minimum distance between Ireland and Scotland is 12 or so miles/20 km, the ‘best’ route across the Irish sea (e.g. Larne – Portpatrick) could be almost double that, perhaps rather less than the British-French tunnel (50 km long) but potentially with much higher costs because of the Beaufort Dyke.
As other commentators have said, it anyone wanted to seriously improve Norn Iron-Scottish links, they could look at the connectivity of Cairnryan to elsewhere in Britain – the road network is appalling and there has been no direct train link since the ferries at the bottom of the garden moved from Stranraer. Incidentally, those who know the area around Cairnryan will know of the ubiquity of ‘Irish’ language names in the area, reflecting the Irish cultural heritage of the area from many centuries ago.
I haven’t written on violence and patriarchy for some time which is probably remiss of me since the link between the two is a key to decreasing violence of all sorts and at all levels – interpersonal, societal and international. I am always amazed that society doesn’t take this issue seriously – that is, the socialisation of boys and young men to accept violent behaviour of some kinds as both normal and positive. Considerable attention is needed to the issue to try to remedy it but all we get is an occasional and oblique reference or action. Of course many societies are now also trying to inculcate acceptance of armed force into women as well, and make their armies gender-neutral (a next to impossible task I would argue).
Where does violence come from? There are many factors including greed, insecurity, enjoyment of bullying and dominance (because it in some way makes the aggressor feel better – but possibly also worse in other ways), as well as misplaced notions of self importance by countries or individuals. But socialisation and peer pressure are a key element.
A study from Duke University in the USA emphasises the importance of peer pressure, particularly in relation to younger men. https://alumni.duke.edu/magazine/articles/study-explores-anger-violence-and-masculinity Adam Stanaland sought to discern “how anger and violent thought correlate to whether men’s sense of masculinity comes from within or is in response to social pressure. Men in the latter category, Stanaland’s study indicates, tend to be younger and to have more fragile senses of masculinity. In short, they think they have more to prove, which they express through anger and aggression.”
“In the end, the studies found that men in their late thirties and younger were more likely to conform to masculine norms because of external pressure and were more likely to behave aggressively if they felt their manhood was threatened.”
Part of his conclusion is that “presenting gender-diverse examples of men, women, and non-binary people and explicitly addressing harmful norms can help boys become less fragile, less aggressive men.“ His conclusions are perhaps nothing new but it is certainly not all gloom and misogynist doom in that it is clear education and exploration of masculinity, along with proper support, can have a real influence in bringing men to a better place than machismo.
But the first stop on this road is acknowledging the problem. Society doesn’t seem to want to do that yet. As stated at the start, this has implications at all levels, from so-called domestic violence (inter-personal relationship violence) through to warfare.
As to how you can create the conditions for serious work on male violence and an acceptance that it is a real and present danger, well, trying continually to create awareness and conscientisation on the issue is part of it. And the lack of awareness and focus on the issue is itself an argument for the existence of patriarchy.
We’re well into the autumn now and winter beckons. As I continually say, every season has it advantages and disadvantages, but getting yourself warm and cosy at home in the winter time, with your feet up, literally and/or metaphorically, has a lot to recommend it. A brisk walk, or a run if you are so inclined, in the cool of autumn with the beauty of golden leaves tumbling is a great tonic for anyone for can get out and about. Until I see you again in a month, take care of each other, Billy.